Sunday, 27 May 2007

We're home

Very nice flight, with good food and plenty of sleep. There were eleven people in the First class cabin this time, but the crew were excellent.

As usual, Heathrow slowed everything down. It took half an hour from landing to getting on the stand, and the luggage took ages to appear. But at least we both used the iris recognition system to avoid the queue at immigration.

Final day

Our last day of what seems to have been a very long holiday. San Francisco feels like ages ago! Having stored our luggage at the hotel, we headed for Stanley Park, a huge park close to downtown. There's a sea wall right round the edge, and we walked a fair chunk of it to see Vancouver's slightly less impressive version of the Golden Gate Bridge, Lions Head Bridge. Some people might prefer the green colour. For lighthouse fans (or maybe it's just me), there's an example you can walk right through.

In the afternoon, we went to the aquarium and saw among other things the beluga whales, and the sea otters. Then we went to the area of waterfront known as Coal Harbour, and watched the boats and sea planes until it was time to pick up our luggage and get a taxi to the airport.

There was a bit of a queue at the BA First class check in, but having access to fast-track security meant we were through very quickly. We're now sat in the lounge (although there's no dedicated First lounge in Vancouver), and the flight leaves in about two hours from now.
It's been a fantastic holiday. It was great re-visiting San Francisco, and finding that nothing seemed to have changed in the last few years. The Oregon coast was spectacular, with one amazing view following another; and Astoria was a really pleasant surprise, and certainly had the best hotel. The drive through Washington wasn't as interesting Oregon: lots of straight roads through trees, and often well away from the coast. But Seattle was good, even though it was the only place we got any real rain. Victoria was charming, a bit like an upmarket English seaside holiday, and the whale watching and sea plane rides were real highlights. I had no sense of what Vancouver would be like, but I can see why people enjoy living there. The city has a nice feel, and the mountains provide some dramatic scenery. We're looking forward to coming back here next February, when we ski in Whistler.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Vancouver, BC

It turns out that Vancouver's biggest attractions are outside the city. So this morning we took the Sea Bus across Burrard Inlet, and got on a bus. First stop was Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has apparently been 'naturally thrilling since 1889'. The bridge is 230 feet above the Capilano river, and is supported by two-inch steel cables; it wobbles a lot.

Next stop was Grouse Mountain, where we took the cable car to the top. The mountain is 4100 feet high, and has fantastic views back down to Vancouver. There are some rescued grizzly bears kept on the mountain, and we watched a very entertaining lumberjack show.

Back in Vancouver, we went up to the Harbour Centre observation deck, as it's very close to the Sea Bus terminal. The Harbour Centre is a weird looking building: an ordinary square tower block, with a round thing plonked on top. However, it does mean there are 360 degree views, including Grouse Mountain, where we'd just been.

The Harbour Centre is also great for watching sea planes coming and going. If we ever travel between Vancouver and Victoria in the future, the sea plane will definitely get our business. It's downtown to downtown, with no long taxi rides needed. The only slight problem is the low luggage allowance, but they do say any excess baggage will be sent free of charge on the next available flight, and as most passengers appeared to be business people with no luggage that shouldn't cause much of a delay.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Two flights in one day

Today's first flight was on a seaplane. It was a quick sightseeing trip round Victoria, although to be honest the main reason for going was the experience of taking off from and landing on water. Our plane was a De Haviland Beaver, operated by Harbour Air. Although there's a departure lounge in their building, they don't mind at all if you go and wait on the jetty in the sunshine.

There are two 'runways' in Victoria inner harbour, and we took off towards the south.

Once off the water, there were fantastic views of the Olympic mountains over in the USA, and of the coastline of Vancouver Island. But the best bit was undoubtedly the landing. It was steep, with a sharp turn, and finished with a splash. In fact, we had to go around the first time because the Victoria Clipper was in the way. When we came over the bridge on the left hand side of the picture below, we were at 500 feet. Then we turned right with the water, and landed roughly where the Clipper is. Then we had to wait while the big ferry to Port Angeles went past.

The second flight of the day was from Victoria Airport (the one on land), to Vancouver. This time, the plane was a Beechcraft 1900C, which looked reasonably sized on the outside, but very small on the inside. There were two seats across, and it was impossible to stand upright. The flying time was 12 minutes, so it was a pity that the taxi at each end took half an hour.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Victoria, BC

The day started with a visit to one of Victoria's biggest, and smallest, attractions: Miniature World. This is a series of model tableaux, many of which are very good indeed, including a model of the trans-Canadian railroad.

Victoria is a charming city, and the harbour is incredibly busy. There are dozens of whale watching boats; ferrys from Seattle, Port Angeles, and the San Juan islands; and as many as two-hundred sea-plane movements a day. We took a tour of the inner harbour on on of the comical little ferry boats which buzz about all day long.

In the afternoon, we swapped to a much more powerful boat, a scarab with three huge outboards, for a whale watching trip. We first went to Race Rock (where there's a lighthouse which was begging to be photographed), to see sealions and seals.
Then is was off to the San Juan islands, where killer whales had been spotted. There are three pods of killer whales resident in the area, and this was J-pod, a group of about 25 whales. They were fairly widely spread out as they were feeding, and there are strict rules on where the boats can go. They have to stay a quarter of a mile offshore, and can't go closer than a hundred metres to the whales while the engines are on. So the boats get in front of the whales, turn the engines off, and wait for them to pass. The boat was also equipped with a hydophonic system, so we could hear the whales clicking and whistling. We saw several whales, including a mother with a three week old calf and a number of groups of two and three.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Into Canada

After a bit more shopping in Seattle, we rode the monorail down to Seattle Centre, to see what else was there. The monorail dates from 1962, and they're still using the original cars. They've done nearly a million miles each.

After lunch, it was down to the waterfront, for the Victoria Clipper to Victoria. The boat is a high speed catamaran, and although it wasn't a rough crossing we'd both had enough of the bouncing motion by the time the two and a half hour journey was over! Great views of Seattle as we left though.

Canadian immigration was far friendlier than its US equivalent! Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, and has an elegant and genteel feel. It has some great buildings, including the legislative building.

But after dark, for reasons best known to themselves, they prefer to make it look like something out of the Blackpool illuminations.

Fortunately, Canada gets American television. So we were able to catch Seattle-born Apollo Anton Ohno winning this season of Dancing with the Stars!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Seattle, WA

Pike market was our first stop this morning, but there was no sign of any traders throwing fish to each other. Maybe they only do that when tv cameras are nearby.

After a bit of shopping, we went up Seattle's tallest building, the Columbia Centre. It's the big black building in the centre of the skyline. It's taller than the Space Needle, a third of the price, and about ninety per cent emptier. The staff (actually there's only one), are about four-hundred times ruder, but the views are great.

From there we went to the pioneer district, and went on the Underground Tour. A century ago, to even out the hills they raised the street level in this part of town, leaving the ground floor of the buildings as the basement, with underground pavements outside.